ParalympicsGB finished the final day of track cycling in the Izu Velodrome at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with a flurry of medals, taking a clean sweep of all three golds available, and also securing a silver and a bronze.
Neil Fachie took gold in the men’s B 1000m time trial ahead of teammate James Ball. In the process Fachie and pilot Matthew Rotherham broke their own world record, clocking a time of 58.083 seconds. Less than an hour later, Fachie’s wife Lora then took gold in the women’s B 3000m individual pursuit eventually winning by two seconds in another world record. Dunleavy’s silver was Ireland’s second medal of the Paralympics. British debutant Sophie Unwin won the bronze race in the same event.
There were inevitable comparisons to Britain’s other golden couple of cycling – the Kennys, who have twelve Olympic gold medals between them. Neil said: “The Kennys are an incredible family so to be even in the same sentence as them is amazing. Lora and I have had mixed success over the years. I won in London, she lost out due to a mechanical, she won gold in Rio and I failed there. We thought the moment might not actually happen when we both won gold.”
It was a third Paralympic title for Liverpool-born 32-year-old Lora, who won two golds in Rio in 2016. She said “I’ve never successfully defended a title before so I’m just delighted and it’s been an incredible day. For me, it’s been a childhood dream to be a world record holder and I now am, thanks to my pilot Corrine Hall.”
It might not be the last hurrah for the Fachies, either. Neil, who was born in Aberdeen and has the congenital eye condition retinitis pigmentosa, said: “It’s been a tough year for everyone. Some people have retired from sport and both of us thought that it might be it for us after Tokyo. We’ve now both got this renewed love for cycling. We did long rides in lockdown and Lora was absolutely destroying me. I’m a sprinter, I don’t do long rides! I’d get up in the morning and Lora would say: ‘here we go again!’ But it made me so fit and I really enjoyed it, it was just fun, there was no pressure. I can see why she’s a Paralympic champion.”
The final event in the velodrome was the mixed C1-5 750m team sprint final, where athletes could be mixed by both ability and gender. The British trio of Kadeena Cox, Jaco Van Gass and Jody Cundy set out at a blistering pace with Cox leading them off. China overhauled that lead on the second leg, but Cundy powered through to snatch victory by one-tenth of a second on the line, setting a third new world record for the British cyclists on the day.
Cox and Van Gass now have two golds apiece at this Games, while former swimmer Cundy claimed the eighth Paralympic title of his career. Van Gass is an Afghanistan veteran who once trekked to the North Pole with Prince Harry. Asked how Cox and Cundy compare to the Queen’s grandson as colleagues, he joked: “They’re much better!”
Wisbech-born Cundy is at his sixth paralympics and has previously won medals in swimming as well as cycling. Of the final leg the 42-year-old said: “I was tucking in to save as much energy as possible, and then it was like it’s time to go now. Everything I’ve got, everything that’s left, I just put it into the pedals. Thankfully it was enough – by 0.1 or something. It was ridiculously close. A phenomenal race, both of us well inside the world record. It was like the perfect race to end the perfect competition.”
Cox, who was made an MBE for services to athletics in 2017, was the only woman in the final, with the Chinese opting to field an all-male team. Afterwards she said “It was so good to have a female on the podium. That female just happened to be me. But it’s great to see. It’s a mixed team sprint and I think it should be mixed.”
The Leeds-born 30-year-old also praised the make-up of the British cycling team and the diversity of ParalympicsGB, saying: “It’s unity in diversity isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what your background is where you come from, whether you’ve gained a disability or were born with a disability, we’re just amazing athletes. That’s it. As much as we have disabilities, we’re just athletes, and we’re great at what we do.”